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24 June, 2009

They Have A Word For It

Okay, let's shift some gears a little; I've been doing ancient history for a wee bit, and that's not going to be relevant to all the pagan values month folks. (This is still Egyptian theology, just applied. Heh.)

I was discussing with someone the other day names and roles for "the woo" (for general reference, a lot of 'the woo' is tagged 'madness in motion' in here); at other times I've discussed things like the meanings of the words "priest" and "witch". I wrote a while back about reconstructionist sensibilities and clergy roles, which is one of the reasons I'm not redoing it right now; go read that one if you want it. And I'm a student (currently on maternity leave) of a teacher in an initiatory Craft tradition, too, whole different sets of meanings in there - but my teacher loves words in a nicely Egyptian-theology-compatible way.)

And among the things that we need to do is figure out what the roles are for these words, what they mean, what shape they have in the world. There are assumptions about what people with titles will be doing in religion, defined in reaction to the surrounding culture and its hegemonial Christianity - that a clergy type, whatever title they have, whatever role, will conduct public services, provide pastoral counselling, do marriages, and so on. Even in religions where the clergy-types don't have that role officially, they often do it just because it's easier than arguing for cultural space to do it properly (I believe many of things that rabbis can do can, strictly speaking, be done by any adult Jewish male, for example).

So take a word like "priest". A lot of modern pagans accuse Christianity of requiring some sort of intermediary between the devotee and the divine, and thus talk about everyone being their own priest -- where "priest" means "someone who's able to talk to the divine without requiring an intermediary". (Never mind that "priesthood of all believers" is, y'know, a Protestant term and many of these people are coming from a Protestant background.) Which means there are a fuckton of pagan priest/esses running around, many of whom don't know their asses from their elbows.

I am reluctant to speak too much about the practices in religious witchcraft traditions, as I am not an initiate, and I am entirely too aware of the differences wrought by initiation and the understandings thereof. However, my understanding is that (in coven-based Craft traditions) the appropriate analogy is of a monastic order, in which a group of ordained people (and trainees) gather for the purpose of honoring and serving the divine in a shared context. (I am even more reluctant to speak about my own non-coven-based Craft tradition, because it is much more weirdly touchy to get that wrong. My teacher appreciates my quoting Terry Pratchett on witches, with comments such as "the natural size of a coven is one", though.) In any case, 'priest' here means someone who is dedicated to a particular mode of interaction with the divine, according to the strictures of the tradition.

"Priest" in Egyptian context means a servant of the god in the house of the god (the temple). The temple is the god's private estate, not open to generalised exploration. There are no services; there is no pastoral counselling. The rituals are for the benefit of the god and, more obliquely, the community, because the community is well-served when the god is pleased. It was, further, historically speaking a part-time job, and also often a sort of sinecure. I've done a godawful amount of religious work, and fought off the priest label because damnit, I am not the servant of any god in Their house. (The madness in motion sideways exception of that between myself and Neb.y is weirdly complicated, and I don't actually talk about it much even though there are times I'd kind of like to, but, y'know, a lot of people think that shit's crazy.)

Which means that I was left short of words for what it is that I do. Because what I do is in many ways more rabbinic than anything else: I'm a scholar, though self-taught, of the relevant texts, I make interpretations, and - perhaps most importantly - I expect people to argue with me, disagree with me, and go off and form their own fucking schools of thought because damnit, we need more thinking. One of these days I'll find a good Kemetic word for that, and then I'll have a title for my public work.

For now, I'm stuck with a sort of uncredentialed ministerial jobbie, which I whimsically refer to as being jackaled (this is like being hounded, only with more Anpu (Anubis)). (Though it's primarily Wepwawet (Ophois) that I deal with, people have at least heard of Anpu.) And a lot of that is what I'm doing here with my pagan values month series of posts: putting forth structure and underlying thought and giving people chewy things to take away and gnaw on, at least in theory, because that's what that particular job is all about. My pastoral counselling is interestingly nondenominational, not because I step out of my religious structure to do it, but because what gods - if any - the person who needs help deals with are completely irrelevant to the question. Wepwawet is the opener of the way; Anpu is the guide to the lost. If someone comes unstuck and finds their way, that's a win on the 'doing god's work' front for me.

Other things that people lose words for are devotional. One can see a lot of pagans looking for "their patron god/dess", without any sort of clarity on what that means to them. Some are seeking a personal relationship with some deity, which may or may not be in the offing. Others pull back to a more historically accurate sense that a patron is the god who looks over one's profession - and I will note that I consider Khnum mine, for all that I have not properly had my hands in clay for years. (Man, I want my studio set up.) Some would find Djehwty a more reasonable patron for a writer (inventor of writing, after all), but my writing is very much about creating worlds in many ways, and thus the maker of souls (Father of fathers, Mother of mothers) looks over my work.

I don't even have a word for how I'd characterise my devotion to Hetharu. In many ways, it's very much in keeping with the ancient structures of worship: the idea of attempting to embody the values of the deity in question. (A Greek travelling in Egypt commented that there was not a woman in Egypt who was not giving her due to Hethert by putting on her makeup, and wasn't that a remarkably devoted population! ... not that I'm femme enough to do makeup most of the time, but that's beside the point.) I do not fear service (obviously), and I can say I pledged myself to Her service some fifteen years ago at this point; I can point at the curve of my belly and talk about the goddess who governs motherhood right now, hell. But this is a subtle and personal thing, not clergy, not something that most people will ever meet clear and in the open, even. I do not fear the word "worship" as many pagans do, nor do I equate it with abasement and grovelling. I sort of hover around "devotee" a lot of the time, as "follower" is not strong enough.

I have no tidy segue for "witch", which is one of those words that rattles around and causes controversy. I was actually sort of peripherally discussing that with a friend recently, who commented that she doesn't care for the word because she thinks that it's used too much for historical shock value, that it's not a reclaimable concept. (I seem to recall that my liege feels similarly, though we haven't talked about it recently.) And it's a word I've been ambivalent about for a long time; for a while I would only self-describe with it using a modifier - specifically "kitchen witch", which describes my style pretty appropriately, as my magical remedies for burns include live aloe plants. (And similar such approaches.) I'm not actually sure what started to shift me on that front, away from the 'this is not me' thing, aside from my deeper Craft studies and perhaps reading too much Terry Pratchett. I don't use it often, and I still often use it modified -- but it's not an entirely alien space anymore.

As posts go, this is not a terribly coherent arc of one, but whatever. I'm allowed to blither on a bit every so often. I think I hit my high points, someone else can fix the transitions. Summary: words mean things. Think about what they damn well mean. Use nuance. Build the world true.

1 comment:

SunflowerP said...

Just dropping a line to say that I'm chewing.